Ah, Halloween… my favorite time of the year. It isn’t so much the festivities taking place that excites me as it’s the feeling in the air once October comes. That palpable sensation you get seeing jack-o-lanterns grimly lit faces, kids trick-or-treating in the streets and the aesthetics of fall surrounding you slowly giving way to winter. I think it must hold a special place in everyone, if for nothing else but purely nostalgic reasons. Mike Dougherty is certainly one of those people, as is evidenced by his incredible horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat. For a holiday that revels in films of a horrific nature, there sure are a scant few of them that take place on the actual day itself. Dougherty’s film is the celluloid embodiment of that je ne sais quoi that has made Halloween such an alluring holiday for generations of kids (and adults) alike. As I said, Trick ‘r Treat is a horror anthology which interweaves tales that all take place on Halloween night, similar to such genre classics as Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside. A costumed couple learns to respect tradition… the hard way, a group of girls head out into the woods for a “howling” good party, the local school principal has a (literal) taste for blood, four kids attempting to pull off a holiday “trick” end up becoming “treats”, and a cantankerous old man gets a visit from a holiday visitor looking to settle a decades-old grudge. To say anymore than that would spoil the fun in watching the film, as these stories are best digested when viewed on an empty mind. The twists are less predictable than most horror films manage these days; half the fun is wondering just where the hell these characters are going to end up. The one constant throughout the film is a costumed, pint-sized little guy named Sam, who does his best to remind people why they should take great care in adhering to the traditions set forth hundreds of years ago for All Hallows Eve. The film is richly seeped in tradition, reminding the audience of just why we celebrate the fabled holiday in the first place. It manages to be effectively creepy and blood-soaked, yet it never goes over-the-top with gratuitous gore. There is also a very obvious helping of black comedy strewn throughout the film, which thankfully never gives way to the self-parody so many horror films feel the need to indulge in. I think the most impressive aspect of this film is the incredible attention that has been paid to detail. Every single shot of the film is beautifully framed and composed, often looking more like a cryptic painting than a frame of film. The austere trappings of Mr. Kreeg’s dark house, the ghostly palette of the rock quarry, the incredible shape-shifting sequence around a roaring fire in the woods… everything here is gorgeous. That aesthetic, married with the spot-on performances and realistic dialogue, give the film an organic feel that never relies on cheese or parody to break tension. The cinematography by Glen MacPherson (who also shot this year’s incredibly brutal Rambo) is so lush it manages to make you feel like you’re a part of the celebration. For someone who is as big a fan of the Halloween holiday as I am, this was especially important to see done right. Too often when a film actually does take place on the holiday it lacks the depth that is presented here. For such a large ensemble cast, there isn’t any one performance that stands out above the rest – everyone here is perfectly cast. I even enjoyed Anna Paquin as the “virgin” of the female group, and she’s not always someone I’m crazy about. Perhaps my favorite role is that of Mr. Kreeg, played superbly by veteran character actor Brian Cox. His look was inspired directly from my favorite director, John Carpenter, and there are a couple of well-placed nods to his work that were highly amusing. Also providing great support throughout the film is newcomer Quinn Lord who plays Sam, the little sack-headed minion who “stitches” the film’s stories together. Ok, now here’s the biggest problem with the film; the 800 lb. gorilla in the room: there is NO set distribution deal lined up. I was lucky enough to see it at the sold-out opening night screening held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for Screamfest 2008. During the post-film Q&A session Mr. Dougherty informed us that he had no idea what the future held for this film. It was set to be released in Oct. 2007 (?!?), then it was pushed back to Feb. 2008, Oct. 2008 and, finally, has been placed on the shelf indefinitely. I’m thankful that Dougherty got some good studio money to make the film to his exact specifications, but, for the love of all things evil, someone at Warner Bros. needs to get this thing out to the masses! I heard rumblings of a direct-to-DVD release date sometime next year, to which I can only say that would be a travesty for something this genuine and unique. I suppose therein lies some of the problem; since this is generally uncharted territory, the studios are clueless as to how they can market the thing. I can understand some of their hesitation (since a good majority of the film features children either killing or being killed), but there’s just no excuse to not give this thing some kind of release – and with an October 2008 release out of the question I don’t when they could give it a proper release. This is a film that needs to be seen during the month of October, but it’s looking like 2009 is the next likely candidate if that were the case. I just don’t want to see this film become the cinematic equivalent to the eternally-gestating Guns N’ Roses opus Chinese Democracy (which, oddly enough, actually has a release date… for now). So, obviously I highly recommend the film, there’s just one problem: how do you see it? Unless you happen to live in NY and can catch the upcoming screening I really couldn’t tell you. I’d hate to have to wait another year until Oct. 2009 for this to get a proper release, but it’s been in the can for so long at this point I think any kind of a proper theatrical release, regardless of when, is merited. I’m sure it’ll pop up at the occasional film festival throughout the year; I just hope it doesn’t get unceremoniously dumped onto DVD without having the benefit of being screened proper for audiences hungry for good, original horror. This is the kind of film you’ll find yourself screening for friends every year on Halloween, becoming as much of a tradition as those the film champions. Everyone knows I’m a rabid horror fan through and through, and I’ve seen more than my share of shitty flicks – this is absolutely one of the best in recent memory. Do yourself a favor and try your best to catch it if you can.